The City of Kitchener approved a range of changes to the city’s streets and trails yesterday in response to physical distancing requirements and changing usage patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. With nearly double the number of people using some trails, the proposal is a response to increased demand for physical distancing space and active transportation options among both commuters and recreational users.
“The COVID-19 pandemic challenges us to rapidly explore new ways of doing things,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “We’re seeing demand for pedestrian and cycling capacity on our streets and trails like never before. At the same time, traffic volumes, even at peak times of the day, are expected to remain low throughout the recovery period. I’m pleased to see City staff thinking about new ways to use our streets in targeted locations to adapt to this new reality.”
The proposal calls for a number of initiatives totalling more than 13.5 km of active transportation facilities, including bike lanes, multi-use trails and a number of Slow Streets, which would be temporarily changed to create slower and safer neighbourhood streets that are more comfortable for walking, rolling and biking. Streets designated as Slow Streets will not be fully closed to vehicle traffic but will be closed to through traffic – meaning only emergency vehicles, maintenance vehicles, delivery vehicles and people who live on the street are intended to have access.
Other initiatives are aimed at supporting small businesses by reworking the rules governing roadways, such as converting sections of King Street and Belmont Avenue into seasonal patio areas for restaurants and allowing food trucks to operate in residential zones if they meet certain criteria such as having a valid business licence, staying for no longer than two hours in a single location and ensuring trucks are parked only in legal parking spots.
In addition, bike lanes have been proposed for Krug Street, Franklin Street and Stirling Avenue. The proposed bike lanes are focused on creating city-wide connections, like the proposed lane on Krug which would cross under the Conestoga Parkway, enabling downtown access for cyclists from the east end of the city. New secure bike parking facilities at Duke & Ontario and Kitchener Market are now open to public use, bringing the total to five facilities throughout downtown.
Delta Street will be closed to vehicle traffic in anticipation of its eventual conversion to a multi-use trail next year, and Gaukel Street will be converted into a seasonal seating area. New trail upgrades are planned for Wilson Avenue and through Budd Park.
A four-week period of traffic monitoring across Kitchener in May revealed a 52 per cent decrease in traffic volumes. While traffic volumes have increased as the economy reopens, low traffic volumes are expected to continue for some time.
“As we carefully and gradually move into the recovery phase of the pandemic, the need for physical distancing means we have to adjust how we prioritize traffic on key pedestrian connections,” said Ward 8 Councillor Margaret Johnston. “We also have to rethink the way we do business. The conversion of Belmont Village to allow for larger patios and additional seating is a concrete way we can help our small businesses thrive in the new normal of physically-distant dining.”
The proposed cycling and trail projects would be funded through a provincial grant awarded to the City of Kitchener in 2018 through the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling program. The remaining projects will be funded through the City’s traffic calming budget.
People-friendly transportation was identified as one of the City of Kitchener’s five goals in its 2019-2022 Strategic Plan though a year-long process of public consultation about the key issues facing Kitchener residents. For those planning a cycling trip, an online map of current cycling infrastructure can be found on the City’s website. To register for access to the secure bike parking, visit the city’s website.